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Fifth Sunday of Easter May 18, 2014

Shining In Color     Prof. Patricia G. Bleicher

In the name of God the Source of who we are, God the Example of how we should love, and God the Presence with us now.  Amen.

Of all the books in the Bible, the one I could never live without is the Book of Psalms. It’s poetry, isn’t it…you can say so much more in the images of poetry, in song lyrics. Hey, you can even say much more than you actually intended to say. I find that I take to the Psalter when I’m having trouble or bursting with joy…the words I find there can express what I mean when I have no idea what I mean…or if I do know what I mean, and it scares me.

When God contacts us directly and we finally see the full beauty of creation in living color, we realize that God is trustworthy, that we can entrust ourselves to this Creator, who loves us unconditionally. Good news indeed.

 That level of confidence can last…oh, I don’t know…up to a full minute? Then we’re off again, trying to fix stuff all by ourselves, constructing our own personal timelines, fretting about terms and conditions, screeching for help, help. That, my friends, is not trust. That’s giving God instructions, and it will not work out well for us…you can take my word for it: that’s the voice of experience talking.

There are Psalms which are very, very beautiful, and there are others that are so straightforward they’re like a user’s manual for real life. A bit clearer than the manual on how to assemble Ikea bookcases, but still linear and a bit directive. Think about it: If you were making a manual for how to construct a tiny piece of healing after devastating loss, wouldn’t it sound like Psalm 23?

The Psalm we’re reading today is complex, like the man whose name appears as composer. David truly loved God and gave God charge of his life…and David truly betrayed God, while taking matters into his own hands. He sang in two voices, and so do we. There is a terrible intensity to singing in two voices…to be honest, it leaves us the teensiest bit schizo.   Listen:

In you, Lord, have I taken refuge…ommmmm.
Help! Help! Come quickly to my rescue!

You are my rock and my fortress…ommmmm.
Keep me out of that trap!

Into your hands I commend my spirit…ommmm.
Lord, deliver me and do it now!

My times are in your hands…ommmmm.
My enemies are coming to get me; save me now!

Now, Psalm 31 is nothing if not honest. We do pray that way, perhaps most of the time. Even though our two-voiced selves have heard the prophet Isaiah and his echo in 2nd Peter, assuring us that those who trust in the Lord will never be put to shame, will always be supported, can rely on the Author of Love…even then, we pray in that wavering way.

Then we beat ourselves up for not having enough faith. And some of our more judgmental brethren try to tell us that it’s our very lack of faith that’s keeping the good from arriving on time. Golly, what a load of guilt and wickedness.

At this point, it’s important that we observe a detail…the deeply committed scholars of the Revised Common Lectionary have omitted some verses, so they can get in a couple of other verses…and the final one chosen for today is most significant. In living color, we must pay attention to that last verse, because in those words is a whole history of prayer that stretches from St. John’s in May of 2014 back for thousands of years. The Psalmist sings:

“Let your face shine on your servant.”

Now that, that is faith. These lovely words do not give God instructions or any kind of timetable, no terms and conditions. These words are echoes. To grasp the importance of these echoes resounding through the prayer, we have to hear the voices singing to us from the Book of Numbers, through the years and centuries of parents celebrating Sabbaths with their children, through the Psalter in all its musical settings and many languages, and even – in my own childhood experience of a Southern Baptist choir – through Protestant Christianity. Wow.

Some of us, especially the EFM students among us, recognize the words, and we know where they come from. Those echoes are from the blessing of Aaron, the prayer that sings to God in one voice, a unity of prayer no matter how many people are involved. Every Sabbath night, mothers and fathers say those words as they bless their children; rabbis say those words at weddings; cantors sing those words to comfort those who mourn’ Episcopal priests say those words in many different settings. “Let your face shine on your servant” is a form of the third-person “May the Lord make his face to shine upon you.”

It is poetry, a poetic image of God’s pleasure in us and unfailing love for us. “May the Lord make his face to shine upon you.” It is not bogged down in details or timing; it floats free in the golden light, through the living color. It says in the most beautiful way that the person who’s praying really does trust God to love unfailingly and to provide as God may see fit. “Let your face shine on your servant.”  I will accept what you send, because I know you love me…just let your face shine upon me.  Isn’t that the essence of the Garden of Gethsemane prayer? I will accept what you send, because I know you love me…just let your face shine upon me. Then all I need do is watch, pay attention to what is sent, see the hand of God at work in my real life, and bless God for it.

If you have trouble with other parts of Psalm 31, or any other Psalm or Bible passage, leave that for another day, but don’t miss the shalom and shining in the echoes. I know you will be able to hear it, because, even as a little girl, I could hear that this single-voiced prayer was different and true…and I can still sing it to the melody used in the Baptist and Methodist traditions; perhaps you can too.

Today, however, let me reach into the shining air and say in English the words first prayed in Hebrew so many thousands of years ago, and so recently prayed in one voice, in languages around the world today, as I call upon the Ruler of the Universe to hold you in love and bring you goodness:

May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord make his face to shine upon you And be gracious unto you
May the Lord lift up his countenance upon you And give you peace.